Effects of Extreme weather on crops, brings us to the verb ‘crimping’ – of pasties and grain! Then back to USA for more on cloud-seeding, ending with a single piece of good news in an otherwise black week
Last week I popped round to my friend, Lorraine, to be given (to my massive surprise) a load of great produce from her North Street garden. This is her first year gardening there, and I simply was amazed that she already could offer me very fat blackberries and almost ripe apples! You can see by the changed colours in pic 1, that I left a couple of apples in the bottom oven overnight, as an experiment. Worked well, as now they are easy to mash into all my baking.
Our conversation revolved around her good fortune, of a hot and sunny June leading into a super-soggy July, which clearly has been great for some crops. But then I remarked, what is good for some may be terrible for others e.g. if you sell sunscreen you were happy in June, not in July and if you sell umbrellas then vice versa. Same for growers!
Why has it been such a rainy summer? I looked to Belfast Telegraph for a short answer
The position of the jet stream has been crucial to July’s weather across the UK and Ireland.
It is a fast-flowing current of air, about six miles above the earth, driving low pressure systems from west to east across the Atlantic, giving us the unsettled weather.
When we get kinks in the jet stream, it can resemble an Oxbow Lake – think Eastenders and the river Thames in London with peaks and troughs.
The UK and Ireland have been caught in one of these troughs throughout most of the month with the jet stream stuck to the south of us.
That effectively blocked warmer and more settled weather from moving north which is typical in the summer months, leading to ‘Catastrophic damage’ in Tyrone and Donegal flooding.
Some outcomes – a quick survey of cereal crops in different areas and ways that growers are trying to adapt to the extremes
Norfolk, normally so dry but this year we read
Farmers have been left “massively frustrated” by rainstorms which have delayed their grain harvest operations during a stop-start season.
Rain-flattened corn is not that rare in a Cornish summer, but when it hits the east of England we know we are seeing another example of unexpected, extreme weather. Eastern Daily Press tells us ‘While drought and heatwaves allowed a rapid completion of cereals harvests last year, arable growers have been grappling with contrasting conditions this summer.
Intermittent showers and rainstorms have forced combine harvesters to be repeatedly parked up on standby, waiting for grain in the fields to dry out enough to meet moisture specifications for storage, and to avoid costly drying charges.’
Compare and Contrast with Cornwall
As I say, rain drenched summers are nothing new here. I recall reading some of my mum’s old farm diaries, when she was a Land Girl after the war e.g. in 1950, after a very fine July, many days of rain came in August. She wrote
Sept 2nd, ‘we brought in a load of the worst damaged wheat and fed it to the fowls’; this continued til 8th, when she said ‘first corn of the year carried’; by the 13th she said ‘brought down a load of corn for the pigs’ and finally on 14th ‘At last we have finished carrying the corn, Thank God!’
In anticipation of such summer weather, most Cornish farmers do not aspire to selling cereal crops for human consumption. That’s cos they know and accept the moisture content is hardly likely to come down far enough (below 16%) to be marketable. Instead, they go for a level of c 30% moisture and ‘crimp’ the crop, to use as animal food. Who knew? For any self-respecting Cornishman ‘crimping’ is what must be done to bend over the pastry at the edge of a pasty! I have never heard it used about corn or crops.
Definition of CRIMP (verb) – is to compress (something) into small folds or ridges e.g. “she crimped the edge of the pie”
Crimped grain enhances animal health and saves costs in farming, harvesting, drying and storing crops. In the crimping process, the grain is harvested earlier when it is still moist and run through a specialised crimping mill, which breaks and flattens the grains (which are fed to livestock).
It is way back in my memory, but in my youth here at Penpell Farm grain was dried by opening big doors at either end of a tunnel and letting the wind howl through! Very imprecise and very cheap!
Then came a dedicated grain store with silos and a separate building where a tractor ran endlessly, burning red diesel I imagine, until the moisture content was sufficiently reduced for animal feed.
Back to today! As the 2023 harvests are flattened by rain and gales, even beginning to go black on the ground and start chitting (sprouting) one might think this summer will go down as an unmitigated disaster. But a fascinating phone conversation with Kelvin Cave of Roe Deer Farm near Taunton enlightened me to the way Crimping and a well-chosen preservative ‘Crimpsafe 300’ can save the day. I discovered another verb too – ensiling – which is the kind of fermentation that happens when making silage. I asked Kelvin ‘are you using nasty chemicals, as preservatives?’ His answer was ‘not all chemicals are nasty and some, you will no doubt be surprised to learn, are used on human foods. The more correct name for these is human food-grade preservative salts.’ Apparently all sliced/processed bread is treated with proprionic acid; processed meats are treated with sodium nitrate, and there are many more in our diets. For farm animal feed, ‘the key thing is to control that anaerobic fermentation process, using potassium sorbate and/or sodium benzoate.’
From his lead, I sort of assumed that the latter chemicals permitted in animal feed would be unlikely to occur for human consumption. Wow, what a shock to find this …
Coca-Cola. Sodium benzoate, potassium benzoate, and potassium sorbate are the three common preservatives in Coca-Cola’s drink. Sodium benzoate is used to protect the taste and it’s used as an antimicrobial agent. Additionally, we can commonly find sodium benzoate in the ingredient lists of Fanta and Sprite.
Should you wish to do so, you will find plenty more about the likely carcinogenic impacts of these substances through a quick Google search. But for now that is enough divergence into grain preservation. Just one final mention of Kelvin Cave’s company. because there are a couple of truly encouraging, hopeful points to make:-
- It is excellent when a medium size farm-based firm like this concentrates on supporting other local farm enterprises and protecting them from the Big Feedstuff suppliers, all set to max profits, with little thought to climate or other impacts
- The most recent project they have joined is called Nitrogen Climate Smart, which involves UK farmers increasing the amount of protein cereals (legumes of all types), with the clear aim of reducing our imports of soya by up to 30%. It will definitely be Climate Smart if it works, and research throughout the project will prove what does happen: –
I highly recommend both this source from Kelvin’s website
this from http://bofin.org.uk/the-ncs-project/
There will be 17 partners involved in this new, four-year, industry led research project. The bold and ambitious twin aims of the project will tap into the huge potential of pulses and legumes to address the climate crisis. The research will support farmers in reducing agricultural emissions by increasing pulse cropping in arable rotations and substituting 50% of imported soya meal used in feed with more climate-friendly home-grown pulses and legumes.
The USA bread-basket
How are grain-harvest matters in those mid-West plains and Pacific NW areas of America, given that last week we learned so much about the desperate shortage of water and drought conditions? USDA (US Dept of Agriculture) reports that
Farmers are slated to abandon acreage due to drought at the highest rate since 1917, but recent rains in the Plains helped to revive late season production prospects. You can almost hear the sigh of relief there, can’t you? However, the downward water trend continues and for that reason Cloud Seeding (mentioned last time) is now happening:-
8 States Are Seeding Clouds to overcome Megadrought, but there is little evidence to show that the process is increasing precipitation
Taken from an article by Chelsea Harvey for Climate Wire. Available online through Scientific American magazine https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/eight-states-are-seeding-clouds-to-overcome-megadrought/
The mountaintops rumble to life unnaturally each year as snow clouds darken the sky across the West.
Open flames burst from the throats of metal chimneys, mounted on squat towers nestled among the peaks. With a low hiss, puffs of particles belch from their mouths into the air, where the wind catches them and whisks them away. These aren’t ordinary particles. They’re tiny bits of crushed-up silver iodide, a crystal-like photosensitive substance once used in photography.
As the wind whips the particles across the mountaintops, drafts of air sweep them higher into the sky—so high that some of them eventually touch the clouds. There, an elegant transformation takes place. The crystalline silver iodide particles have a structure similar to ice—and inside a cloud, like attracts like. Water droplets begin to cluster around the particles, freezing solid as they gather together and these frozen clusters eventually grow too heavy to stay in the air. They fall from the cloud and drift gently toward the Earth, dusting the mountaintops with fresh snow.
Interest in cloud seeding is growing as temperatures steadily rise, increasing drought risks in places like the Mountain West. But there’s a catch. Scientists aren’t sure how well cloud seeding works today, let alone in a warmer climate.
“Certainly, we’re in a better position now to address that question than we were 10 years ago,” says Jeff French, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Wyoming. “The state of the science has progressed to the point that it is a question that we can and should be trying to address now.”
“Water managers basically have two choices, and both of them are implemented,” said French. “One is to somehow reduce the demand through conservation, and the other is to somehow increase the supply. And cloud seeding is a relatively inexpensive proposition. Proving that it works, though, is another matter.”
“We now have much better tools to try to observe cloud seeding as it’s happening,” French says. “So it’s sort of about taking this new technology that has been developed or improved upon over the last 20 years, and applying it to a very old problem.”
A little history of Cloud Seeding
Humans have been experimenting with weather control for the better part of the last century. Vincent Schaefer, a researcher with General Electric, is often credited with the first cloud seeding experiments in the 1940s. Much of Schaefer’s work during and after World War II centred on preventing aircraft from icing over in midair. So, he designed a special homemade freezer to help him better understand the way ice forms inside clouds. As the story goes, Schaefer entered the lab one day to discover that his freezer had been turned off. Hoping to cool it as quickly as possible, he placed a block of dry ice inside the box. A cloud of glistening ice crystals instantly formed in the air.
In 1946, Schaefer conducted the first true cloud seeding experiment by aircraft. He dropped 6 pounds of crushed dry ice into a cloud in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. Almost immediately, snow began to fall.
“There was a ton of research done in the ‘60s and ‘70s and ‘80s,” said French, the University of Wyoming scientist. “But all of that kind of came to a halt when I think there was a realization that agencies were spending millions upon millions of dollars year after year, and the results continued to sort of be inconclusive.”
In 2003, the National Research Council published a comprehensive report on weather modification, highlighting these problems. It concluded that “there is still no convincing scientific proof of the efficacy of intentional weather modification efforts.” Still, NRC recommended continued research on weather modification.
Report dated 2021
Today, cloud seeding operations take place in at least 8 states across the western U.S., with varying levels of investment often shared among state agencies, utilities and private companies such as mountain resorts. Since 2018, Wyoming and Colorado have strengthened their programs by investing in aerial cloud seeding operations—that’s seeding conducted by aircraft—in addition to the ground-based machines they already have scattered throughout the mountains.
These are relatively inexpensive investments, divided between all relevant states = a few dollars per acre-foot of water (equivalent to about half an Olympic-size swimming pool). That’s far less expensive than the cost of many other water-saving interventions, such as water conservation, recycling or desalination, which can cost hundreds of dollars per acre-foot.
On Jan. 19, 2017, a research plane roared through the grey skies above Idaho’s Payette River Basin, spewing silver iodide into the air. Known as the SNOWIE project—short for “Seeded and Natural Orographic Wintertime Clouds”—the study provided some of the first quantitative evidence that cloud seeding works.
“For three days there was cloud cover, but no snowfall, no natural precipitation,” said Katja Friedrich, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who helped lead the SNOWIE project. “We put the seeding material into the supercooled liquid cloud, and we were able to generate precipitation. And that was very revolutionary.” Over the course of those three days, the scientists estimated that around 286 Olympic swimming pools’ worth of snow fell.
But experts also advise keeping expectations in check.. “We can generate a limited amount of snow, but not really overcome a drought situation.”
A BLACK MOMENT ☹
In all honesty the info on Cloud Seeding just does not inspire me, feels too fake. But I am certainly open to anyone who wants to challenge me on that conclusion.
Worse though, is the list of bad news headlines that have arrived within hours of each other in the past few days. I promise to sort them through and see what we need to embrace for next Friday: –
Rishi Sunak’s home is invaded by Greenpeace following his decision to grant hundreds of new licences to drill for oil and gas in the North Sea.
His argument for doing so goes ‘some sectors will still have to run on fossil fuels in 2050, we don’t want to buy them in’. How utterly defeatist is that?
Which sectors? Aviation, Maritime and Steel construction – aren’t they gearing up for Hydrogen?
|The oceans have hit their hottest ever recorded temperature as they soak up warmth from climate change, with dire implications for our planet’s health. |
The average daily global sea surface temperature reached 20.96C (69.73F) this week, beating a 2016 record, according to the EU’s climate change service Copernicus.
This image shows bleached corals but there are many more horrible implications.
A report released today, by energy industry veteran Nick Winser, says the push to de-carbonise is being held back by the slow pace of new pylon projects.
It has recommended a streamlined planning process to halve the time it takes, down to around 7 years, and closer alignment between planning rules in Scotland and the separate system for England and Wales.
This sounds as if it might be a final bit of good news, but not really. Every recommendation elicits massive opposition and he suggests paying off the communities involved, like this one in East Anglia. Feels all wrong, kind of bribes for election purposes rather than finding the best answers.
Mercifully there is one, just one good news story to end
FOREST for CORNWALL PLANTS A TREE for EVERY RESIDENT
The Forest for Cornwall has reached a key milestone of more than 600,000 trees planted since it was launched four years ago – the equivalent of a tree for every resident in Cornwall. The Forest now spans approximately 600 hectares across woodland, parks, community spaces, gardens and farms improving residents’ access to nature and absorbing carbon emissions to help slow climate change.
The Forest for Cornwall team have produced a short video on how the Forest for Cornwall is helping farms diversify